Fellow Story

Dudney authors paper on the spread of deadly tree disease due to climate change

Evidence of plant disease range expansions due to climate change has remained elusive. Switzer Fellow Joan Dudney combined causal inference with stable isotope analysis in a new study that shows climate change and drought contributed to a nonlinear disease range shift into higher elevations.

Joan writes about her experience traveling into the wilderness to collect a decade-long dataset and using cutting-edge analysis to unearth major insights into climate change induced plant disease range expansion in a blog post for Ecology & Evolution. She writes: 

“Humans are not the only species facing a pandemic. Over the past 100 years, white pines in North America have been succumbing to a highly infectious disease called white pine blister rust. …

In 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing whitebark pine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This decision hopefully marks a turnaround for the conservation of this critically important and still widespread species. While many regions of whitebark's range have experienced major dieback, the southern Sierra Nevada historically contained some of the healthiest populations.

Unfortunately, climate change and drought are now threatening one of the last remaining refugia for whitebark pine. Though scientists have long-expected climate change to shift the location of tree disease, the evidence of these range shifts has remained largely speculative. Below I chronicle the backstory of how we rigorously isolated the impact of climate change on the range shift of white pine blister rust.”

Read the full story here.

Additional Resources

Drought and Climate Change Shift Tree Disease in Sierra Nevada: Dry, Hot Climate Drives Blister Rust Disease Upslope, Threatening White Pines, UC Davis press release.